Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Prominence of the Affective Dimension (Part 2 in the “How are Muslims coming to Christ?” Series)

imageThe previous post examined the contextual and gradual nature of MBB faith journeys. In this post we look at the second theme of factors that influence Muslims to embrace Biblical faith (from here):

2. The Prominence of the Affective Dimension

The affective dimension of worldview is usually more prominent in MBB conversions than the cognitive.[i] It is a subjective experience, often meeting a felt need, and often in the form of the supernatural such as a dream,[ii] a tangible answer to prayer, a miracle, a healing, or an overwhelming feeling of the presence of Jesus. Factors in the affective dimension are more frequent in MBB conversions than those in cognitive/intellectual search for truth. Interest in Christ is sparked by affective experiences, and understanding seems to come later in the process.

Early one-dimensional evangelical models of conversion tended to be overly cognitive (cf. Tippett 1977; Hesselgrave 1990, 617-73). Engel and Søgaard revised the “Engel Scale” to include the affective dimension (Søgaard 2000), noting that conversion is not just about correct beliefs but also about positive feelings and attitudes towards Christ.[iii] The most comprehensive model that describes the process of conversion, especially for Muslims, is found in Reinhold Strähler’s article A Matrix for Measuring Steps in the Process of Conversion (2007) (also in Longing for Community (Greenlee 2013).

Strähler has classified four types of processes involved in conversion for MBBs. Notice that cognitive or belief issues are less prominent at the beginning of the processes for types two, three, and four. The four types are (1) intellectual – cognitive issues are extremely high and the convert studies and compares various religious options; (2) affectional – characterized by personal relationships and emotional elements; (3) mystical – characterized by a passive convert who is “surprised by God,” usually in the form of the supernatural; and (4) solution seeking – asking Jesus for help with spiritual or practical problems (2010, 84-100).

David Fraser suggested that MBBs tend to be less rational or intellectual in their conversion experiences, so that “understanding of the fundamentals of the gospel is an event that comes after they have confronted Christ and decided he is indeed Supreme Lord. All they know at the point of conversion is that Jesus is powerful enough to deal with their problems” (1979).

During his childhood years, Yehia remembers an older American Christian woman who made sure he got to school safely each morning. She later befriended his family and helped out during several times of need. Yehia loved her like a mother. Later in life when he became very disillusioned with Islam while studying to become an Imam, he remembered this Christian woman. Additional positive experiences with Christians led him to investigate the Bible and eventually begin to follow Christ. Like most MBBS, Yehia’s conversion was a long process with many contributing factors in the affective dimension.


1. The Prominence of the Affective Dimension – Without denying the essential need for truth encounters, we need to prayerfully depend on the Holy Spirit to impact the Muslim heart in whatever way our friends need most. Apologetics and rational persuasion have their place, but are not as prominent with Muslim seekers as divine interventions in their lives. Praying for and with Muslims in the name of Jesus seems to be quite impactful.

Additionally, I would like to add Hiebert’s insights:

We need to remember that we are not God’s lawyers in proving the gospel.  We are witnesses to a new life, and the affective dimensions are often what first attracts people to the gospel. In discipling it is hard to convert feelings, partly because our discipling processes focus on cognition.  Feelings are caught, not taught, and in discipling we need to include them more in times of informal fellowship and in personal sharing.  Feelings, like knowledge, are parts, not the whole, in the process of spiritual transformation (312-13).

Next: Part 3, The Silent Witness of Love and Integrity.


Bruce said...

Implicit in much of the discussion of cognition is an intellectual analytical interaction with information and ideas. I think we might be aided by considering non-analytical cognitive models as well, and also discussing ‘integrative processing’ (of information, relationships, feelings, experiences, etc.). I think this may be inferred from your treatment of the subject suggesting we move away from reliance on cognitive-centric approaches.

As a side note: if I am reading God’s Word and I have this strong recognition that a particular verse is true, is that qualitatively different than having a vision or dream where Jesus appears and says “I am Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Follow me.”? One is conscious and the other subconscious. Both have an informational aspect, a relational aspect, and an affective aspect. How do they fit into this model?

Warrick Farah said...

Bruce, GREAT question. I suspect you may be able to answer it better than I can. ;) I think the point is that this subcounscious dream is an experience, and emotions and experience seem to lead the way in factors that facilitate conversion, and that understanding (must) comes later in the process.